—by Todd Thorson

(tthorson@storycityherald.com)

With the start of school just a week away, the Roland-Story school district has been conducting business as usual this summer. Plans and preparations have continued during the summer months in order to be ready for the beginning of the 2013-14 school year. Classes are set to begin Wednesday, August 14; one of the earliest start dates ever for Roland-Story. And with the vast majority of Iowa school districts electing to submit waiver requests each year to the Iowa Department of Education, the discussion and "controversy" surrounding the early start dates will undoubtedly continue to be debated into the future. Most recently, the Iowa Association of School Boards elected to defer to the state legislature a decision pertaining to possible changes in the Iowa Code bylaws concerning early school start dates, saying that it is a legislative issue and needs to be debated by our elected state officials.

In the meantime, classes will begin August 14 with some new faces gracing the halls of Roland-Story for the 2013-14 school year. Laura Pepin will be the new school nurse at all three centers, replacing Patti Weltha. Kathy Origer will be High School Principal Steve Schlatter’s new secretary, replacing Claudia Fuhrman.

New faculty members include: Colton Calvert, high school social studies and assistant high school football coach; Megan Debus, middle school special education; Chad Gilroy, elementary school teacher and high school cross country coach; Jessica Greenfield, high school language arts, associate and NHS; Paul Higginbottom, high school industrial technology and multi-media; Darci Kellen, high school language arts and TAG; and Derek Robison, middle school teacher and coach. Also joining Roland-Story this fall is new Story City food service employee Malinda Warwick.

Various summer projects have been completed the past couple of months, including a new press box and stadium seating at the Story City football field in Story City. The new seating has been installed, and work is nearing completion on the new and larger press box on the west side of the field. Kevin Patterson is the contractor for the press box project, and has been working closely with the Roland-Story Athletic Foundation and its members to get the new facility ready for the upcoming football season.

Another project this summer included new playground equipment at the elementary school. On June 18 and 19 a large group of volunteers finally installed the new equipment after over two years of hard work fundraising on the project. Kate Hartzler, Elementary Principal, wants to thank the school board, businesses, students and the many parents for helping with this venture.

The following volunteers helped install the equipment: Merle Harms, Jim and Sherri Keigan, Ryan Canny, Marc and Mary Kay Solberg, Kristin and Scott Johnson, Scott Heithoff, Doug Loof, Zach and Kate Hartzler, Cindy and Matt Phelan, Tanner Johnson, Drew Hughes, Sue Uthe, Jim O’Connor, Mark and Lucas Wuebker, Chrstie Thoreson, Kathy Gabrielson, Leo and Brenda Gessner, Tawnya Staton and Michelle Cook. The R-S Elementary would like to thank these people and anyone else who was inadvertently missed.

The rubber mats that go with the equipment are scheduled to be installed this week, and the school encourages anyone to volunteer to lend a hand. Contact the school office for times and details.

A future project was guaranteed as well, when the school board approved the purchase of a ½-acre lot in Roland’s Industrial Park for $19,500 from the Roland Area Development Corporation.

The lot will be used for the construction of a new bus barn, which will be built at a future date to be determined.

The school board also approved a wide array of board policy and recommendations at their past two monthly meetings in June and July. A handful of changes were made to the middle school and high school student handbooks. The elementary school handbook stayed virtually the same, other than changing dates and names.

The student accident and catastrophic insurance package was approved, and the district remained with same company that has offered the program for the past few years. "The best part of the program is the provision for our student/athletes," said Superintendent Mike Billings. "They can get descent coverage for a small premium."

The district has always had a couple of annual agreements with the Area Education Association (AEA) in Cedar Rapids. One of those arrangements includes PowerSchool, which is the district’s student information system. Another program is the management system for Roland-Story’s business office. Billings has been very satisfied with AEA’s service and responsiveness in the past.

The Mid-Iowa School Improvement Consortium (MISIC) is a group of Iowa schools that are on the "cutting edge" of school improvement, according to Superintendent Billings. The district has been a member since MISIC started, and since the organization has a close relationship with the Iowa Department of Education and has an innovative approach for implementing the CORE program, the district agreed to continue the membership.

Despite some negativity in the past, and having faced some scrutiny as of late, the Roland-Story district voted to continue their membership with the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) as well. "They still provide critical services, and their safety group (property and liability insurance) is unique and beneficial," stated Billings.

The school district also approved membership with Iowa School Finance Information Services (ISFIS). Roland-Story has been a part of the organization for the last few years, and relies on the group for several forms and services. "There is no question that the leaders of the group are the school finance experts in our state," Billings remarked.

At the July board meeting, several annual approvals also took place. The 2013-14 milk, break and fuel contracts were awarded to to Anderson-Erickson, Bimbo Bakeries and Key Cooperative, respectively. Kum & Go has been close to the pump price of Key Coop, and was considered, but the discount Key Cooperative offers created a notable difference.

Roland-Story will continue to participate in the free and reduced lunch program, which is a federal program. Each school year the district has experienced higher use of this program, and Billings expects that use to continue to increase.

There was several board resolutions implemented by the school board. First American Bank, Reliance State Bank, Great Western Bank and Ackley State Bank will be the official depository banks for the district, with a maximum amount set at $7,000,000 each. Candi Holm was officially named school board secretary, business manager and treasurer for the 2013-14 school year. She was also given approval as the school official in charge to use inter-fund loan transfers.

Kate Hartzler, Elementary Principal, will be in charge of the Title VI program. Mike Billings will be in charge of the impacted aid program, PL874. The board also approved the sending of buses to other districts and allowing other districts to enter our district for the purpose of transporting open enrollment student, all by mutual agreement.

Andy Johnson of Town and Country Insurance was present at the July board meeting as a representative of EMC Insurance. Roland-Story has been with EMC for the past few years. Johnson discussed various changes to the premiums and coverage. Following discussion, the board approved continuing their policy with EMC. "EMC continues to cover well over 90 percent of the districts in Iowa," said Billings, "and the dividend we receive annually is hard to beat."

And finally, a new copier and services agreement was reached with the Ricoh Company. All purchases and maintenance of the district’s copiers will be handled by Ricoh.

So now, with all the board policy implemented and approved, projects completed or near completion, and teachers and staff in place, it’s time to welcome back the students on Wednesday, August 14. Remember high schoolers, your day starts a little earlier this year. Start time is 8:20 a.m. The middle school remains at 8:25 a.m. and the elementary school begins at 8:35 a.m. Have a wonderful 2013-14 school year everybody!

(See the special Roland-Story school page on page 5 of this week’s Herald for a complete list of faculty and staff members.)